Twitter Adds ‘Report Abuse’ Feature – How Does It Stand Up Against Freedom Of Speech? 2

The use of twitter has increased more than anyone could ever imagine since its launch back in 2006, with over 500 million registered users as of 2012. As discussed in a previous post, over 278 thousand tweets are sent every minute, meaning that an astonishing 400,320,000 are sent every day.

Twitter is used for a variety of purposes, the most common is that of connecting with people of similar interests, encouraged by the feature of hashtag’s (#). Whether it be watching a TV programme, tweet about the weather, or updating on traffic report by hashtagging that particular tweet allows other people to search and find it. For example the Olympics was tagged #London2012, weather is unsurprisingly tagged #Weather, and there are even some unique ones such as #FollowFriday whereby you list people who you think your followers should follow.

By using twitter I have engaged in discussions with people in the USA, Australia and Canada, and used it to get advice as to which film I should see, to what I should have for lunch. It also has some practical uses, getting through the red tape of some large companies when there is a complaint to be had is often much more effective if you make a fuss about it on a public forum (especially when there are others with the same complaint), and even making friends.

Living in a country that is full of laws we occasionally get one passed that we feel is of some use, and that includes the ones that cover freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is something which in third world countries can only be dreamed of, yet in first world countries is something that is taken advantage of. Perhaps its the view that if we no longer have the right to say what we want, we are one step away from dictatorship. Or maybe it’s because as time has gone on issues have changed, and so what is discussed is different and more likely to be offensive. On the other hand it could just be that some people are too easily offended, and take issue with things just to make a fuss.

The likely conclusion is that it’s a combination of all three, people believe that we have the right to say what we want, to who we want with no consequences, something that they wrongly believe the freedom of speech laws were intended for.

On one hand being able to say what you believe is right is important, but the issue comes as to what this topic covers. Being able to disagree with a company that doesn’t pay tax is one of these examples, as is expressing disgust over how you were treated in a particular job. What is not acceptable is that people can say vicious things purely in the name of freedom of speech.

Up until a few days ago, twitter was one of the places where people could say what they want, with very little fear of any sanction. This has now changed and there is now a ‘report abuse’ button attached to each tweet, but the story behind how this change was called for puts shame to the human race.

Women up and down the country were campaigning to get a woman on the new £10 banknote after new notes of other denominations had been designed featuring an unequal ratio of men to women. As a result of their campaigning some, who disagreed with their view took to twitter to express their anger. Grace Dent was threatened with a bomb being placed outside her home and Stella Creasy was threatened with rape.

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Perhaps its one of those things which I assumed was never said to me because it was be taken as read, but clearly needs to be said to some people out there. IT IS NEVER ACCEPTABLE IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCE TO THREATEN RAPE TO ANYONE, OR A BOMB OUTSIDE ANYONES HOME. If this is what people believe freedom of speech is for, then in all honesty, we are better off being in a dictatorship than having this being said.

An apology from Twitter UK's MD was the first step in the right direction.

An apology from Twitter UK’s MD was the first step in the right direction.

The good guys on twitter quickly took to their computers, and set up a petition, asking for those in charge to take a zero tolerance policy by setting up a petition. The petition itself received over 100,000 signatures in a very short space of time causing the bosses to sit up and take note. On Saturday 3rd August 2013 Managing Director of Twitter UK, Tony Wang sent out three tweets one after another apologising for what happened, confirmed that it was unacceptable, and stated that more would be being done to protect users from such things. It was a long time coming perhaps, and should have been one of the features which twitter started off with, but twitter had accepted that there was a growing number of ‘ Trolls’ on their service, whose only purpose was to upset and threaten others, and it was time to take a stand.

Shortly after that announcement, Twitter posted an update on their blog with the title “Our Commitment” and the first line being “It comes down to this: people deserve to feel safe on Twitter.” there was no illusion that Twitter bosses wanted to be seen as hitting this hard. Their rules were updated and a Tweet Report Button was added, as well as the ability to report an abusive user online.

All very well and good, but the question remains is, whilst the tweets mentioned above are clearly abusive, who is going to be deciding whether a tweet is abusive or not if it falls within the grey areas of the new twitter rules? For example, it’s not uncommon for people to post pictures of themselves in a new item of clothing and asking for a response as to whether they look good in it. Would a response such as “no it looks awful” be considered abuse, probably not, but it may still spark the recipient to press the new ‘report tweet’ button.

The point I am trying to make is that whilst I agree that having this report feature is an excellent idea, there are still some questions which need answering. Who decides is it abuse or not is one of them, abuse of the report feature may also occur, what sort of action will be taken against those who abuse it, and how will people who have their account suspended make an appeal? I suppose this information will come forward soon, as Twitter themselves have put this together so quickly some of the iOS apps are still waiting for updates to get this feature.

Whilst this feature is there to discourage people from sending genuine abusive messages to one another, the danger of it stifling healthy debate is also there, is this the price we have to pay for the minority who are unable to interact with others in an acceptable manner, I hope not.

With millions of users, there are bound to be a few bad apples, the question is, have they spoilt it for the whole bunch?

With millions of users, there are bound to be a few bad apples, the question is, have they spoilt it for the whole bunch?